A Content Analysis of Health and Safety Communications Among Internet-Based Sex Work Advertisements: Important Information for Public Health




Kille, Julie
Bungay, Vicky
Oliffe, John
Atchison, Chris

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Journal of Medical Internet Research


Background: The capacity to advertise via the Internet continues to contribute to the shifting dynamics in adult commercial sex work. eHealth interventions have shown promise to promote Internet-based sex workers' health and safety internationally, yet minimal attention has been paid in Canada to developing such interventions. Understanding the information communicated in Internet-based sex work advertisements is a critical step in knowledge development to inform such interventions. Objective: The purpose of this content analysis was to increase our understanding of the health and safety information within the Internet advertisements among women, men, and transgender sex workers and to describe how this information may be utilized to inform eHealth service development for this population. Methods: A total of 75 Internet-based sex worker advertisements (45 women, 24 men, and 6 transgender persons) were purposefully selected from 226 advertisements collected as part of a larger study in Western Canada. Content analysis was employed to guide data extraction about demographic characteristics, sexual services provided, service restrictions, health practices and concerns, safety and security, and business practices. Frequencies for each variable were calculated and further classified by gender. Thematic analysis was then undertaken to situate the communications within the social and commercialized contexts of the sex industry. Results: Four communications themes were identified: (1) demographic characteristics; (2) sexual services; (3) health; and (4) safety and security. White was the most common ethnicity (46/75, 61%) of advertisements. It was found that 20-29 years of age accounted for 32 of the 51 advertisements that provided age. Escort, the only legal business title, was the most common role title used (48/75, 64%). In total, 85% (64/75) of advertisements detailed lists of sexual services provided and 41% (31/75) of advertisements noted never offering uncovered services (ie, no condom). Gender and the type of Web-based platform mattered for information communicated. It was found that 35 of the 45 women's advertisements were situated in personal websites and hosted details about nonsexual aspects of an appointment. Men and transworkers used Internet classified advertisement platforms with predetermined categories. Communications about sexually transmitted infections (STIs) occurred in only 16% (12/75) of advertisements with men accounting for 7. Women's advertisements accounted for 26 of the 37 advertisements noting safety restrictions. Zero men or transpersons restricted alcohol or drug use. In total, 75% (56/75) of advertisements offered out-call services and the average minimal hourly rate ranged from Can $140/h to Can $200/h. Conclusions: The study findings contribute to understandings about the diverse platforms used in commercial sex advertisements, and how sex workers frame information for potential clients. This information affords health care providers and policy makers insights to how they might assist with promoting the health of Internet-based sex workers and their clients.



eHealth, communication, confidentiality, cross sectional studies, gender, health behavior, Internet, sex industry, sexual health


Kille, J.; Bungay, V.; Oliffe, J.; & Atchison, C. (2017). A content analysis of health and safety communications among internet-based sex work advertisements: Important information for public health. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 19(4), e111. http://dx.doi.org/10.2196/jmir.6746